The Coen brothers don’t give a fuck. In other words, the Coen brothers tend to create narratives that are in the purest sense, unique – films only the duo themselves could make.
And they love not making any sense. Actually, I think they get a kick out of it. Each of their movies is centered around a wacky protagonist who keeps on doing their thing after being subjected to a series of chaotic events.
At the end of Fargo, Frances McDormand is still a pregnant cop with a fat husband. In the last scene of No Country For Old Men, Javier Bardem is still a creepy psychopath. Ulysses Everett McGill was always going to find his fortune, Barton Fink was never going to land a film, and Larry Gopnik will always struggle to be a mensch. And most obviously, the Dude abides.
So in this sense, the Coen brother’s latest movie, Inside Llewyn Davis, follows the same pattern. The movie centers on Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a deadbeat folk artist in the Greenwich village folk scene, just before Bob Dylan makes his New York City debut.
A deadbeat from the beginning, he ends up a deadbeat. They don’t care if he ends up playing with Dylan or getting famous; they just want to see him squirm.
At end of the movie, he ends up where he started. Literally, the first scene is also the last scene. Both times Llewyn gives a gifted solo performance then immediately gets beaten in the alley. He’s simultaneously a soulful artist and horribly mixed up in trouble, possibly forever. They don’t provide happy endings or insightful life lessons that leave audiences feeling satisfied. Their emphasis is the journey – the appreciation for the bizarreness of life.
And every scene in between confirms this.
For instance, in this scene below, Llewyn is absolutely broke and homeless, and Justin Timberlake’s character, Jim gives him a recording gig to help him out.
The scene displays the two major Coen brother dgaf attributes: the cultivation of ridiculousness, and the obsession over a character’s ability to remain the same.
On one hand, the song is a strange take on 60’s white-collar pop. They like playing with aesthetic in an exciting setting, and their default is employing absurdity. The perfect example is the eccentric country singer Al Cody, played by Girls’ Adam Driver. He absolutely qualifies as a weirdo. And as weirdos themselves, the Coen brothers are simply projecting their own skewed vision of the world.
On the other hand, they are exploring the complexity of a character. Why does he insult the man who is trying to help him out? Having grown up on folk music, they are making a sort of twisted homage to the folk singer mystique. The brothers are infatuated with the idea of Llewyn Davis, and want us to see inside his soul; they are intellectually curious why he continues to be a fuckup.
And this is what the Coen brothers do – they pursue their own fascinations. It’s like the grown-up version of Joel and Ethan playing dolls. Llewyn, in the short time we get to know him, interacts with a hoard of quirky personalities, including Llewyn’s ex-girlfriend (Carey Mulligan), a road-tripping beat poet (Garrett Hedlund), and a heroin-addicted jazz musician (John Goodman).
Even though it is their own interests that drive their films, they do solid work. Sure it’s out there, but in the tension between the normal and the abnormal, the Coen brothers thrive.